Skeptics beware: I’m about to recommend a musical not only for its energy and imagination but its use of 3-D. Like its little-seen predecessor (Step Up 3-D), Step Up Revolution won’t win any screenwriting awards, but it’s a perfect summertime refresher. What’s more, it’s the first movie I’ve seen this year that justified the use of those clunky 3-D glasses and actually made the experience enjoyable. (I can’t tell you what 3-D added to The Amazing Spider-man or Brave, but this movie’s production numbers are specifically designed to have fun with the medium. What a concept!)
The story is a collection of clichés but the actors are likable, good-looking, and know how to dance. Ryan Guzman plays a waiter who’s part of a group called The Mob that stages elaborate flash-mob dances in public places throughout Miami, hoping to win a big cash prize in a contest sponsored by YouTube. He chances to meet Kathryn McCormick, who’s trying to win a spot with a prestigious dance troupe…and whose father (Peter Gallagher) is promoting a huge development that will tear down Guzman’s working-class neighborhood. Will she betray her father and help his cause? Should he tell his pals that she’s the daughter of their enemy? And can they continue to stage spontaneous dance events without getting into trouble with the authorities? These are the dramatic crises that unfold between musical moments.
As I watched the movie I realized that it actually has a lot in common with those wonderful Busby Berkeley musicals of the 1930s. They, too, were designed as escapist fare and featured attractive people in corny scripts. The stories were just an excuse to showcase Berkeley’s wildly imaginative dance extravaganzas. Pump up the volume, flash forward eighty-some years, and you get Step Up Revolution.
As a celebration of dance, movement, and visual ingenuity, this movie is hard to beat. Director Scott Speer, who has worked on The LXD: Legion of Extraordinary Dancers series (and is a protégé of Step Up 3-D’s talented director, Jon M. Chu), knows where to put the camera to make the most of every shot in every number, and isn’t addicted to staccato editing. Choreographers Jamal Sims, Christopher Scott, Travis Wall and Chuck Maldonado have cast talented performers and put them in a variety of colorful settings right from the start. (The movie opens with a terrific flash-mob number staged on the streets of Miami’s Ocean Drive.)
I’ll admit that this isn’t a movie I would have sought out on my own, but having seen it I’m happy to spread the good word. It’s a lot of fun.